HOV lanes and left lane camping explained, again

Jul 14, 2022, 7:10 AM | Updated: 10:38 am

It’s time to revisit one of our favorite topics: the HOV lane and left-lane camping.

Our good friend and KIRO Newsradio fill-in host Travis Mayfield posted this last week on Twitter.

He recounted a recent trip where he was driving in the HOV lane from Tacoma to Seattle. Travis said he was going the speed limit and several drivers came up from behind and rode his bumper and then jumped into another lane and pass him aggressively.

That post sparked a lot of discussions, including a lot of comments from people who do not understand how the HOV lanes work and how they apply to the left lane law.

First, let’s go over the left lane law. RCW 46.61.100 clearly states that you must be in the right lane unless you are passing. If you are hanging out in the left lane without passing anyone, you are camping and violating the law, even if you are going the speed limit. You are not there to control the speed of other drivers.

So does the HOV lane count as the left lane? If you are going the speed limit in the HOV lane and not passing anyone is that breaking the camping law?

The answer is NO, State Trooper Rick Johnson explained.  “The [HOV lane] is not counted as a general purpose lane, and the law applies to the general purpose lanes for left-lane camping,”  Johnson said. “It is a restricted lane. Unfortunately, there are some people that believe that is the left lane.”

The HOV lane is its own thing. The camping rule never applies to that lane, even when that lane is not active.

For example, the HOV lane is only active on part of 405 from 5 a.m. to  7 p.m. But from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., it doesn’t just suddenly turn into a general purpose lane.  “That HOV lane is still not the left lane, and so you just pretend like it doesn’t exist, in essence, when you’re thinking about that left lane law,” Trooper Johnson said.

But Trooper Johnson’s advice here is simple. If you’re not passing, just stay in the right lanes.  “If it’s open to all and the other lanes are clear, just stay out of that far left lane,” he said.

Travis’ twitter thread also led us into the deep end of the pool in this discussion.  Does the left lane camping rule apply in the 405 Express Toll Lanes (ETL) where there are two lanes?  Should you be in the left ETL between Bellevue and Bothell, if you are not passing other ETL drivers?

The left lane camping rule does not apply here either because the express toll lanes are not general purpose lanes. That said, Trooper Johnson says the best thing to do is to stay in right ETL lane anyway.

“If you don’t need to be in that lane and you’re not actively passing, just get into the next ETL lane,” Trooper Johnson said. “That will avoid any kind of aggravation by other drivers.”

And that is the best advice overall. You shouldn’t be in the left lane unless you are passing. When traffic is light, there isn’t really a need to be in the HOV lane either. While you are certainly eligible to be there, hanging right might be better for overall traffic flow.

And by the way, if you are in the HOV lane, please go the speed limit or keep up with the general traffic flow.




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HOV lanes and left lane camping explained, again